Exhibition Explores Depiction of Dementia in Children’s Literature

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Professor Jean Webb with the exhibition at the Infirmary Museum

Jean Webb, Professor of International Children's Literature in the University’s School of Humanities, has drawn on her research into this topic to devise a free display at the Infirmary Museum, based at the University’s City Campus, in Castle Street.

The interactive exhibition combines hands-on activities with the possibility to leaf through books that address the subject. It runs throughout the summer until September 1.

“The exhibition shows how writers have addressed the problem of dementia in various ways from picture books across the age range to teenage readers,” said Professor Webb. “Writers for children tackle difficult subjects with the intention of educating children and helping them understand how they might approach matters and that people can be helped. The subject of dementia and how children can learn about the condition and how to deal with it in family life has increasingly become a subject for writers for children internationally over the past decade as dementia has been recognised as a growing problem with ageing populations.”

Professor Webb is also Director of the International Forum for Research in Children's Literature, which brings together researchers in children's literature from the University and more widely internationally. The idea for this exhibition was sparked by a chapter she produced for a recent book that explored how dementia develops understanding between young and old in contemporary children’s literature.


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Professor Webb has since extended her work in this field, conducting a collaborative research project with Sarah Caré from the University of Jaén, in Spain, who has been working in the UK with Professor Webb for six weeks as part of her PhD.

The exhibition features a timeline showing how writers are increasingly including dementia in their work for children. It also uses books selected from the Hive library, which are accessible to the public and will be available there after the exhibition closes. The texts selected demonstrate how writers for children are trying to enable children to understand the condition and the ways in which they can help. This includes novels by well-known authors like David Walliams and Anne Fine.

Activities include a quiz that draws attention to the content of the children’s books, showing the common content in the stories and how people manage as a family living with a relative who has the condition. There is an artwork activity and a chance to make a memory collage, which is a strategy for people living with dementia to recall their past life. Visitors can also walk around to find happy memories, such as having a picnic or celebrating a birthday, on cards that are hidden in the Museum. Researchers have compiled a list of fiction that deals with dementia, with a suggested age for readers, which is available via a QR code. The activities are suitable for children of all ages and adults.

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“The activities, such as making a memory collage, pick up on the activities appearing in the children's books, so that visitors of all ages can experience for themselves how images can trigger memories and feelings,” added Professor Webb. “We chose this activity as it appears in a number of the books on display which are available for visitors to read.”

The Infirmary Museum, which tells the story of Worcester’s former hospital, is free to the public. It is open Monday to Saturday, 10am until 5pm.